Early Format Meta Breakdown

paul cashenHaving spent a bit of time this week checking out various regional tops, it had completely slipped my mind that Six Samurai placed in the top 8 at the “1K in 1 Day” ARG event a couple of weeks back and primarily, it’s the inspiration for my article this week. From observations of previous formats, it seems that during the beginning of a format, there is greater scope for decks to cause a shock, or major upset. Two examples that spring to mind are Jeff Jones’ Grandsoil Psychics, which placed 2nd at YCS Toronto 2012 on the first weekend of the September 2012 format, and YCS Toronto 2013, where a Blackwing deck made it all the way to the semi-finals (again, this event was hosted on the first week of the new format). Despite that, the September 2013 format made it quite easy for Dragon Rulers to re-establish themselves as the best deck of the format, where ‘best deck’ quickly became ‘best variant of Dragon Rulers’ (which accounted for just fewer than 50% of all tops last format). For decks to generate any amount of success against Dragon Rulers, players expected that they were likely to face them ahead of any other deck, and tailored their own decks accordingly. Sam Pedigo won YCS Turin with a deck that was as much Anti-Ruler as it was Geargia, main-decking cards he described as ‘degenerate’, such as Gozen Match and Imperial Iron Wall in triplicates. This really demonstrated just how much of a monopoly Dragon Rulers had on the previous format.

The release of Shadow Spectres in November did little to alleviate last format’s problem and all in all, it was a pretty underwhelming set if you were not a Bujin fan (In truth, it would have taken the release of a pretty broken card in Shadow Spectres to affect last format’s meta significantly).  The January forbidden and limited list addressed the mono-format problem and essentially gave us September’s format, but without Dragon Rulers.  With that in mind, what I want to try and do with this week’s article is emphasize the variety of decks that have topped over the first few weeks of the new format, using regional tops. The list is by no means exhaustive (it does not include all regionals to date), but I feel that it represents the current format’s diversity quite accurately:

Using the above chart as a basis, Fire Fist, Geargia, Mermail and Spellbooks cumulatively occupy just fewer than 50% of tops, with Fire Fist contributing the most to that number. This isn’t surprising, considering the aforementioned decks were hanging onto the coattails of Rulers last format. However, what is most pleasing about the data is that the biggest share is taken by decks with two or less tops to their name. Noble Knights, Evols, Dark World and even Anti-Meta count themselves among this category, to name a few. The second highest category (2 to 4 tops) include Evilswarm, Constellar, Hieratics and Inzektors; with the latter two having a mini-resurgence in popularity in the current format. The remarkable thing about this is that combined, all of the decks with 4 or less tops outweigh the top 4 decks of the format, albeit slightly. As mentioned before, the list of regionals I had used is not exhaustive (as I had to determine a cut-off point somewhere in order to write the article), so this is something I expect to change when you factor in every regional from every country to date, especially now that we have an ARGCS and a YCS to account for, but the preliminary findings are interesting nonetheless.

The ARGCS over the weekend in Nashville threw out some encouraging results. Most notably, Billy Brake placed in the top 16 using Jeff Jones’ Harpies, a deck he had never played before. Amongst the numerous Fire Fist tops, the Hieratic Ruler hype train gathered steam over the weekend, culminating in four top 16 finishes, substantially raising the demand for Hieratic Seal from the Ashes in the process. Fire Fist was represented the most in the top 16 – a total of 7 people ran it. However, what I find most interesting about this is the display of different variants within the top 16. Whereas Dalton won the event with a stripped down version of the deck utilising CardCar D, 4-Axis and 3.5 Axis (or Dual axis, whatever people prefer) builds also had a decent showing in the top 16. Fire Fist’s ability to be played several different ways competitively really helps its cause when it comes to defining the best deck of the format thus far. Meanwhile, over at YCS Australia, a Hieratic Ruler deck finished 9 rounds of swiss undefeated and pure Karakuri took the championship, sharing the top four with Prophecy and not so surprisingly, Fire Fists. Whilst they are getting their fair share of tops during the early format, there is certainly enough variety within the current metagame to suggest that players don’t have to run Fire Fist themselves to stand a decent chance of topping a regional, which could not be said for large portions of last format.

Post Legacy of the Valiant, there doesn’t seem to be much reason to suggest that this trend won’t continue. The current top decks have not received further themed support, and the cards most likely to impact the game in any way (Evilswarm Exciton Knight and Number 11: Silent Honor Ark) are generic and available to all decks that can churn out rank 4’s. Besides this, Bujins and Gravekeepers have received the best support from the set, which should increase their playability and most probably their representation at major tournaments also.  In addition, it remains to be seen whether Hieratic Rulers can live up to the hype they have managed to generate before (and during) ARGCS Nashville.  Despite all of this, I feel that as the format progresses, Fire Fist will slowly begin to cement itself as the deck of the format. It’s consistent showing at regional level and above, along with its many variants; from builds using Creature Swap in tandem with Fire Fist Boar to 60 card Fire Formation Seito decks highlights the strength of the deck in the current format. Over the next month, as the competitive scene goes through YCS Atlanta and Berlin, as well as the visit of the ARG Circuit Series to Charlotte, NC, it will be exciting to see if Fire Fist can indeed break away from the pack, whether Dragon Rulers can rise again, or whether the meta will continue to be as diverse as it is now.  See you again next week, folks!

Paul Cashen

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